Harriet is a chamber opera about the African-American freedom fighter and former slave Harriet Tubman. Written by Hilda Paredes – one of Mexico’s leading composers – it will receive its UK premiere at the Lawrence Batley Theatre during this year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.
In 1913, Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland. Her master’s violent temper lead to a traumatic head injury early in life. This was debatably the cause of the vivid spiritual dreams and recurring visions that followed Tubman thereafter, most of which involved her escape. She acted on these visions, and in 1849 she escaped to Philadelphia. She then decided to help others, becoming a ‘conductor’ on the Underground Railroad (the legendary escape route across the American continent), via which she lead a great number of slaves to freedom.
Hilda Paredes, who has received many prestigious awards for her work, wanted to celebrate this icon of American history. Her chamber opera Harriet is a portrait of Tubman and her struggle against slavery. Its ambitious and powerful narrative details Tubman’s journey from captivity into activism, depicting both the suffering she endured and the spiritual experiences that spurred her onward. One particularly interesting aspect of the work touches upon the coded instructions that Tubman would send to slaves. She would hide these instructions in spirituals and in music. Some of the tunes that Tubman used will in fact feature in Paredes’ work.
Produced by Belgium’s Musiektheater Transparant in association with the HERMES Ensemble, this is a highly ambitious chamber opera that not only tells Tubman’s dramatic story, but also poses vital questions about slavery and independence today. It’s a must-see at this year’s hcmf//.